Don’t Do Me Like That

While Oskar was zoom­ing down the slopes this week­end, I spent a lot of time in the lodge. I am still wait­ing for a skin graft on the back of my left calf to heal, and until then, I can’t wear boots. So instead, I watched Oskar board, and when it got too cold I went into the lodge, and in the lodge I real­ized some things.imageThe first thing is that ski­ing and snow­board­ing are a young man’s game. In three days I met a lot of peo­ple and the only per­son near my age was the 71 year old woman who worked in the Guest Rela­tions kiosk. Even the old­er non-ski­ing par­ents were younger than me by a decade. I’m not sure why. Yes, it’s an exer­tion to get up into the moun­tains, espe­cial­ly when you have to put chains on your car in 8° weath­er while your ten year old sits in the car and shiv­ers. Yes, it costs more mon­ey than you think. But there are maybe two or three times dur­ing a typ­i­cal day when the beau­ty and the qui­et of the world sneaks up on you. And that’s more than usu­al­ly hap­pens in a week back home. I can’t wait until next sea­son when I can be up there with my son and enjoy that frosty bliss.

The sec­ond thing is that noth­ing like that hap­pens in the lodge. Ever. Espe­cial­ly when there is a playlist of late 70s rock pumped every­where, indoors and out. I not­ed the fol­low­ing list of songs that played in one twen­ty minute stretch : ACD­C’s Back in Black, Athena by the Who, Heart­less by Heart, Freewill by Rush, and Stroke Me by Bil­ly Squier. Which is real­ly some­thing if you con­sid­er my first real­iza­tion above. None of the thou­sands of peo­ple on the moun­tain that day were around when that music was new or rel­e­vant. Why has that par­tic­u­lar era of sta­di­um rock ossi­fied into the sound­track of most ice sports ? But the lodge is a great place to drink bad cof­fee, to eat weird­ly deli­cious omelets, to lis­ten to pods of teenagers share sto­ries of sick rails and fucked up falls, and to read.

The last thing I real­ized is that I am sick of being lied to. What I read was Ben­jamin Schwarz’s “The Real Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis” in The Atlantic Month­ly. I had heard some things over the years about how the truth was­n’t quite what we thought it is, but I nev­er thought it was seri­ous enough to war­rant a seri­ous look. I was wrong.

Schwarz’ arti­cle is a review of Shel­don Stern’s “The Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis in Amer­i­can Mem­o­ry.” Stern has lis­tened to and stud­ied the Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee tapes record­ed dur­ing the Cri­sis and he reveals that the cri­sis was as much a polit­i­cal cre­ation of the Kennedy broth­ers as it was a gen­uine threat from Khrushchev and the Sovi­ets. Khrushchev did­n’t decide to put ICBMs in Cuba out of the blue. The US had deployed Jupiter MRBMs in Turkey in 1961 aimed direct­ly at Moscow. We already had nuclear Thor mis­siles in Britain that could attack the Sovi­et Union. And in 1961, Kennedy launched the failed attempt to oust Cas­tro from Cuba known as the Bay of Pigs. The place­ment of the mis­siles in Cuba were a response to Kennedy’s aggres­sive pos­tures toward the Sovi­et Union and to our nuclear mis­siles in Turkey.

And while Kennedy’s Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee under­stood this, we were made to see it much dif­fer­ent­ly. The Amer­i­can peo­ple were led to believe that Khrushchev act­ed spon­ta­neous­ly and uni­lat­er­al­ly in a way that threat­ened our coun­try and our exis­tence. While the mis­siles in Cuba looked bad, they were actu­al­ly less of a threat than the many SLBMs that the Sovi­ets had a hun­dred miles off our shores. And we had even more on our subs parked in the Atlantic and the Mediter­ranean. The mis­siles in Cuba would take hours to pre­pare to launch, while the sub-based mis­siles could be in the air and on their way to an Amer­i­can city before NORAD could respond.

Instead of nego­ti­at­ing a mis­sile trade (which Khrushchev him­self had sug­gest­ed, because he nev­er real­ly believed that his actions were any­thing more than a tit for tat move toward equi­lib­ri­um), Kennedy pre­sent­ed the Sovi­ets with an ulti­ma­tum that promised anni­hi­la­tion if the Cuban mis­siles were not removed.

I was born a few months before this all went down. I was a tiny Amer­i­can, voice­less and unaware that the world’s fate hung in the bal­ance. And I was­n’t the only one. Mil­lions of babies, chil­dren, and peo­ple all around the world were pawns in the hands of a hand­some mega­lo­ma­ni­ac and his less hand­some coun­ter­part. Great Britain, France, and oth­er coun­tries were dis­mayed that a nuclear show­down had occurred when it could have eas­i­ly been nego­ti­at­ed and resolved through nor­mal diplo­mat­ic channels.

Stern recounts how Kennedy even­tu­al­ly accept­ed the nego­ti­at­ed mis­sile trade, but he insist­ed it nev­er become pub­lic knowl­edge. His broth­er returned or destroyed all cor­re­spon­dence on the mat­ter in case it ever came back to bite him lat­er in his polit­i­cal career. Kennedy even kept it a secret from most of his cab­i­net and his Vice Pres­i­dent. He unnec­es­sar­i­ly drove us to the brink of nuclear war and then he cov­ered up his acqui­es­cence in order to appear like a bad ass — forc­ing the Sovi­ets to pull out or face destruction.

This is all bad enough, but Schwarz points out that this kind of blus­tery pos­tur­ing became the tem­plate for most of our impor­tant for­eign pol­i­cy over the next 50 years. Rea­gan and Bush espe­cial­ly are famous for their tough talk and unwill­ing­ness to nego­ti­ate for peace. It’s become axiomat­ic that in order for Amer­i­ca to be strong we have to be will­ing to go to the brink and nev­er back down. And that’s utter bull­shit. Kennedy did­n’t do that, but he nev­er allowed the truth to be revealed, and now his lies have put count­less more Amer­i­can lives either in dan­ger or in ear­ly graves.

When I was ten years old, the same age my son is now, I remem­ber my moth­er cry­ing as she watched Richard Nixon resign the Pres­i­den­cy in dis­grace. She was dis­traught because it was incon­ceiv­able to her that the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States could be a liar. Let that sink in for a sec­ond. Thir­ty-eight years ago, peo­ple wept because they real­ized that the Pres­i­dent lied to them. That seems laugh­ably naïve now. But clear­ly I must have had a resid­ual flake of par­ti­san naiveté left some­where inside, because while I did­n’t cry, I def­i­nite­ly want­ed to yell and scream when I learned that our gold­en boy Pres­i­dent was just as impeach­able, if not more, than Tricky Dick Nixon.

I prob­a­bly should have yelled, because nobody would have heard me over the Tom Pet­ty song in the lodge.